By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
The day after the Legislature passed the “Jobs Package, “ that was a great part of the Governor’s agenda, we had the privilege to sit with Governor Bentley and talk about the bills, and the other matters that he is planning for the state. The Governor share many insights into his goals and his mission.
APR: Governor Bentley, If you don’t mind, I would like to hear your thoughts on the passage of HB159 and the Jobs package as a whole. I know it was a signature bill for you and it was a tough one to get through.
GOV. BENTLEY: I really was. One of the most important things that we are trying to do right now, and we worked so hard on it last year, is create jobs in the state. Alabama offers so many things that companies like. We are a right to work state, one of 22, and that is one of the most important things especially for Asian companies and even European companies. So that is one, another is the low cost of doing business in Alabama. We are a very pro-business state. We try to keep down regulations as much as possible on businesses.
We have low taxes in Alabama. We also have the best workforce development programs of any state. I mean, we train workers and have the best workers of any state in the country. I’m telling you, I go around to these plants and I see these workers. They work hard. They do a great job and it is always an honor for me to go and watch these guys work. These men and women just do a fantastic job.
The other thing that I have as governor, we put together these packages to try to recruit industries, we have incentive packages. But when I came into office most of it was gone, the money that was available, the 666 money. That sounds bad doesn’t it?
APR: Yes it does if you are a believing Christian.
GOV. BENTLEY: Yeah, but that is what it was called. Most of that in fact was all gone. It kind of left before I got in office. But, we do have the ability to still float some bond issues up to $100 million to help new companies come in. But with the ones that we recruited this year and the ones that we still feel like we are going to get by next summer (some really big projects) that money has been promised.
So I am confident in my tool kit as far as incentive packages. This House Bill160 and the enabling bill which is our constitutional amendment [HB159]. Will give us what we need to really make things happen concerning jobs.
The people of Alabama will be able to vote on this. I’m sure there will be a push from the AEA to try to kill it. I may have to go on television and explain to the people that this will not take money out of education. People will understand that you can’t give money to education if you don’t have a job, paying taxes.
There [the AEA’s] reasoning is totally erroneous. I have argued with them on that subject for 10 years because if no job is there then no taxes are being paid. So, HB159 gives us the constitutional amendment we need and 160 was actually the bill itself. They passed the bill [HB160] before they passed he constitutional amendment. It had to have 63 votes to pass the constitutional amendment. We knew it was going to be close. But in the end we actually got 66 votes.
We are very excited. I did go over to the House and spend time on the Floor working with the people that I had talked to. I working to really kind of shore up and make sure that those people who had committed to me that they would vote did vote for it and me being there on the floor helped, I think.
APR: Well, I heard there might have been something private meeting going on on the second floor and that you had met with some folks.
GOV. BENTLEY: We did the day before. We met with a number of people. I would call them down individually. Some said they could vote with me and some said they couldn’t. But, I don’t get mad at people, I just try to convince them that this is the right thing to do. I just said, “Whoever you are voting for, whether you are voting for or against, just remember that you are voting for the people of Alabama today because we are creating jobs.
APR: That is one of the things that I had spoken with a lot of folks about and I happened to talked about it on the Capital Journal. I said, “Look people don’t have jobs. If Mom and Dad don’t have a job and they can’t put food on the table, if they can’t provide clothes for their family, or can’t give their children a home, then you can have the best educational system in the world, but these children can’t learn if they don’t have food, clothing and shelter.” It’s impossible.
The logic of what you’re saying is so honest and the other logic is dishonest.
GOV. BENTLEY: It is dishonest. Honestly, I think AEA drew a line in the sand on some issues. They said, “We are going to win on this.” And they didn’t.
Now, we have got to get it through the Senate and I believe we can do that. And then we have got to convince the people of Alabama that what we are trying to do is create jobs and if I have to go on statewide television to do it, we’ll do it.
APR: I know that recently you were in DC. Being a physician you have the unique insight about healthcare and health in general. People are concerned about the healthcare exchange and the effect that is going to have on Alabama. Did your DC trip reveal anything on that? Any thoughts?
GOV. BENTLEY: To be honest with you, the people I went to see in DC…what came out of my mouth was foreign to them because this was a group of liberal bureaucrats. When I talked about it from a real life point of view from practicing medicine and talked about it from a conservative point of view, they just sat there. I didn’t get a lot of applause, but I didn’t water down my message either.
I think one of the worst pieces of legislation that has ever been passed in this country is the Affordable Healthcare Act [Obamacare]. I really do. It’s not going to be an affordable healthcare act because it is going to cost us so much money that this country is not going to be able to afford it. So, the only thing that I like in it are preexisting conditions, to allow people who have preexisting conditions to be able to buy health insurance.
I think we need to help people who have preexisting conditions do that. Now you can do that with risk pools, you can do it with a lot of things to form insurance companies, with risk pools, and spread that around with other insurance companies so that not everybody is caught with that.
If we in the state do not come up with some type of insurance exchange then the federal government will do that. And it will go into effect in 2014.
Let me go back and say this, One of the things I looked at when I ran for governor was a free market exchange–which is certainly different than what the federal government wants to do. It would make it easy for people to go online, and have more companies come in and be more of a free market model. It would be modeled a little bit after Utah’s exchange rather than the exchange up in Massechusets.
I’m not sure that what the federal government is trying to do right now can be done. What was presented to me at that commission that we are doing right now for an exchange in Alabama. What they gave to me I was lukewarm on it. If we don’t get improvement on what was presented then I think it would be better just not to have one.
APR: What are the consequences of that?
GOV. BENTLEY: Well, the consequences are the federal government will come up with something, they say, if they can. I’m not sure they can do it. In fact, I think that is why they want states to try it because they don’t know what to do.
APR: It still looks like it is going to be heard before the Supreme Court.
GOV. BENTLEY: That’s right. And I would like to see what that ruling is going to be because I truly believe that parts of this bill are unconstitutional. I am hoping that the Supreme Court will rule that it is unconstitutional.
APR: This brings me to another question. I like it when you, do what you call, “Shaking things up.” I enjoy that. I have often thought when watching you, I have wondered do you take your work home with you? Is this job something that stays with you? Do you get inspiration? I just would like to know how your thinking works.
GOV. BENTLEY: I have to make a lot of decisions every day.
APR: I can’t imagine.
GOV. BENTLEY: I really do. But I have confidence that I have a connection with the people of the state. I believe that my thinking is with the vast majority of the people of Alabama. So I believe that many of the decisions that I make are going to be accepted and even if they are not I do believe that the people trust me. They know that I am going to be honest, that I am not going to lie, that I’m not going to be any different…these folks [staff] don’t see me any different…I’m not any different at home than I am here in the office. I’m the same person.
I pray that God gives me wisdom every day and I truly believe He controls my whole life. He has done that for a long, long time. So, I pray that he continues to give me wisdom, so, I make decisions and I move on.
I may make mistakes and if I do, I admit those. I say, “Oh, that was a mistake” or “I changed my mind.” I just say that I have just changed my mind. If I get more facts in, there is nothing wrong with that.
I can not be burdened down by past decisions, I have too many to make. So I make them with the confidence that I believe that God directs me and gives me wisdom. He gives me some special gifts of understanding people. Do I take it home, I just don’t worry about it.
APR: It’s inspirational, I think the people of Alabama are happy with the job that you are doing. We hear that whether it is in my church, or the grocery store. We went into Walmart and ran into some friends of Susan’s, we showed them the picture of you and Susan. They said, “We love the Governor, he seems so real and honest, but is he like that all the time?” And we said, “Yeah, he’s like that all the time.”
GOV. BENTLEY: You know what? I love the people of this state. I really do, just like I did my patients and my patients love me. When I ran in the runoff for governor, I got 87 or 88 percent of the vote in Tuscaloosa County. That is pretty strong when that many people vote for you, but they know you. And I love them and they love me, it’s a mutual thing.
I believe you have to be a servant-leader. A leader is really a servant of the people. You have just got to believe that every day you are getting up and trying to do the best for the people of the state and care about them. You see a lot of politicians–and I don’t consider myself a politician–politicians care more about the process. Beating the other guy or this type of thing, but they don’t care about the people that they serve.
I saw it so often during the tornadoes. I would take these politicians with me and I would be trying to put my arm around people who had lost a loved one and care about them and try to comfort them and they [the politicians] were back there texting.
If somebody was telling me about their son or daughter that was just killed in the tornado, I had some of them that were with me that were back there on the cellphone, they just didn’t seem to care about the people. I’m not being critical, I guess everybody is different, I know they are.
APR: Well years as a physician, you have seen people with problems up close and personal everyday of your life. It makes a difference.
In part two Governor Bentley talks about goals and plans for the future.